Chapter Three (Part 1)
A servant informed Madam that her grandson and his wife slept in the same chamber last night. Madam rewarded the servant, and she smiled throughout the morning meal.
In contrast Chen Quan Ran's heart was conflicted. Last night he planned to jest with Xiao Lan for a while, he didn't expect it would lead him to sleeping with Xiao Lan. But his strength didn't break the gentle Xiao Lan in bed as he was scared it would. He felt his wedding night with Xiao Lan was unforgettable.
Since Mo Lan woke up she was in a bad mood. If her eyes met Chen Quan Ran's eyes at the table then she would glare at him. She thought he was a repulsive rogue. She could forget he ate her easily, but she couldn't forget how he used an ink brush to write nonsense on her body. Earlier she bathed and wiped her body for a long time to erase the ink off her body.
Chen Quan Ran wasn't scared of Xiao Lan's deadly glare. He passed Xiao Lan a bowl of congee. 'Xiao Lan, you need to eat more to nourish your body. What if you are pregnant with the Chen household's next generation since last night?'
'Xiao Lan, listen to Quan Ran. It's too early to know if you are pregnant, but it's important to nourish your body,' Madam said.
'Madam, why are you jesting too? How can I be pregnant after one night?' Mo Lan asked.
'Xiao Lan, you don't need to worry. We will train together until you're pregnant,' Chan Quan Ran said and he laughed.
Chen Quan Ran knew a lot about childbearing, because in the past Chan Quan Ran had to help his men's wives give birth in remote villages if there was no midwife nearby. It helped him to know what pregnant wives needed to eat and drink to nourish their bodies.
The reason why Chen Quan Ran didn't want to face the truth in the past years that he had a wife at home was because each time he thought about his wife he remembered the weak little girl who sat inside the red sedan chair. How could he consider a nine year old little girl as his wife? Xiao Lan was only a child ten years ago. Another reason he didn't want to return home years ago was because he couldn't accept his grandma forced him into an arranged marriage.
Chen Quan Ran always thought his wife didn't need to be from a powerful household, and his wife didn't need to be a beauty. He wanted his wife to be strong enough that when he was on the battlefield his wife would be happy and perform her duties at home.
Chen Quan Ran resented he was forced to marry a weak child bride. But his grandma raised him, and she had aged. Although he suspected his grandma wasn't ill, he wasn't heartless enough to continue opposing his grandma for another ten years. He was lucky Xiao Lan only looked weak on the outside, because on the inside Xiao Lan was strong. He respected the way she could manage his home whilst he was away for ten years.
Mo Lan blushed and she kicked Chen Quan Ran's leg under the table. 'Who wants to continue training with a rogue like you?'
Chen Quan Ran pretended Xiao Lan's kick hurt his leg. 'Ah! My wife, even though your husband has thick skin but you shouldn't kick your husband because it hurts. Today my wife taught me what people say about a woman's heart is like a needle in the ocean is true.'
(Equivalent to the proverb 'needle in a haystack' i.e. it's hard to understand a woman's heart.)
Mo Lan stopped kicking Chen Quan Ran under the table. She suspected it wasn't Chen Quan Ran who sat next to her at the table, because she couldn't believe a general would own a rogue's mouth.
Madam was happy Xiao Lan was lovingly hitting Quan Ran, and she saw adoration in Quan Ran's eyes.
Madam, Chen Quan Ran and Mo Lan ate and laughed together for a long time.
'Quan Ran, do you need to go see the emperor?' Madam asked.
'Yes, grandma. Before I left the army base camp I sent a messenger pigeon to the head of the imperial guards. I asked him to inform the emperor why I returned home. If I don't go see the emperor today then the emperor will be impatient,' Chen Quan Ran said.
'Quan Ran, the emperor and you are childhood friends. But you didn't even return to attend the emperor and the empress' wedding banquet. Be careful when you enter the imperial palace, the emperor will give you a beating,' Madam said.
Chen Quan Ran thought about how the emperor would pretend to want to behead him when he enters the imperial palace, and he laughed. 'Grandma, you know that you, grandpa, my father and I helped keep the crown on the emperor's head steady. We helped build the emperor's Northern Empire, and we helped the emperor's citizens to have peaceful lives. The emperor will think he can't thank me fast enough. Why would he want to give me a beating?'
Madam frowned. 'Quan Ran, you clearly don't know big from small and you can't see the sky from the ground. Don't say those words for outsiders to hear. You and the emperor have a good friendship, but the distance between an emperor and his citizen needs to be respected. If you are found guilty of offending the emperor, it won't matter how many good deeds you performed in the past because you'll still be beheaded.'
'Grandma, I know. Your grandson isn't foolish. Even if someone else wanted me beheaded my head won't fall easily,' Chen Quan Ran said.
Chen Quan Ran ate another bowl of congee, he drank tea and he wiped his mouth. He saw Xiao Lan was glaring at him and he smiled. 'Xiao Lan, do you want to come with me to see the emperor?'
Mo Lan was worried about Chen Quan Ran leaving. She opened her mouth to say something, but she quickly closed her mouth.
After the morning meal, a servant helped Chen Quan Ran put on his official clothes to see the emperor in the imperial palace.
At the front gate of the Chen household, Mo Lan gave Chen Quan Ran a bag. 'You should bring this with you, it will help you inside the imperial palace.'
'Xiao Lan, what is this?' Chen Quan Ran asked.
Chen Quan Ran opened the bag and inside were valuable jewellery.
'You haven't been to the imperial palace for years. I'm worried some people will not recognise you when you enter the imperial palace. Madam said you and the emperor are childhood friends, but that is in the past. Today is different, he is the emperor and you are his general. I'm worried inside the imperial palace there will be many court officials who will be jealous of you, and they will scheme against you. This is why...' Mo Lan said. She retied the bag for Chen Quan Ran. 'After you enter the imperial palace, you should give gifts to the eunuchs who serve the emperor, and they will remember you and be grateful toward you. If they hear any schemes against you then they will inform you about which court officials you should be weary of.'
Chen Quan Ran laughed. 'Xiao Lan, you want me to bribe people?'
'Bribe is a strong word to say. Inside the imperial palace are many imperial consorts related to court officials. If you don't walk carefully before returning home then you'll have many people who are waiting for an opportunity to harm you. There will be many greedy imperial guards who will open and close their eyes when they need to. That's why you need to be careful in case you fall into an unexpected trap...' Mo Lan said. She looked at Chen Quan Ran sternly. 'And the Chen household is rich. This bag of jewellery is nothing. Take it and quickly go before you are late to see the emperor.'
Chen Quan Ran's heart was moved. In the past he hated any kind of bribes. He was in a position where he didn't need to rely on court officials' support to keep his position. But Xiao Lan thought about his safety and she planned ways to help him defend against court officials who would want to harm him, made his heart trembled.
Chen Quan Ran carried the bag and he smiled. 'Xiao Lan, are you worried about your husband's safety?'
Mo Lan blushed. 'Who wants to worry about you? I'm only worried about the future of the Chen household.'
'Xiao Lan, if you are worried about me then you can say you are worried about me. You don't need to use another excuse to hide that you are worried about me,' Chen Quan Ran said. He stepped closer to Xiao Lan. He held some of her hair strands and he lifted it to his nose. 'It's good, you smell like my wife.'
Mo Lan kicked Chen Quan Ran's leg. 'You rogue!'
Mo Lan turned around and she walked away from Chen Quan Ran. She heard a loud laughter behind her back. She didn't know how she married such a repulsive rogue.
Chapter Three (Part 2)
Cheng cleaned her master and mistress' chamber. She accidently knocked something concealed that hung on a wall.
'Mistress, what is this? Why is it heavy?' Cheng asked.
'Be careful! Don't open it,' Mo Lan warned.
Cheng stepped back from the fallen object. 'Mistress, what is under the black fabric? Is it one of master's treasures?'
Mo Lan looked at Chen Quan Ran's concealed dao (a Chinese sabre) and she smiled. 'Yes it can be considered as a treasure. It's a powerful treasure.'
Cheng was curious why her mistress was gently stroking the concealed object. 'Is it valuable?'
'It's an invaluable treasure. Xiao Cheng, help me hang it back on the wall. It's too heavy for me to lift it by myself,' Mo Lan said.
Mo Lan and Cheng took a long time to hang the dao back on the wall. There were sweat visible on their foreheads.
'Mistress, I think master hid gold under the fabric. Why would master need to hide so much gold?' Cheng asked.
'Xiao Cheng, your eyes need nourishment. It's something more valuable than gold,' Mo Lan said.
Mo Lan removed the fabric. Under the fabric was a long and broad dragon shaped dao. Mo Lan wasn't surprised Chen Quan Ran polished his precious dao often, candle light reflected off the shiny dao.
Cheng's hand stretched toward the dao, but Mo Lan stopped her. 'Xiao Cheng, don't touch it carelessly. This dao has its own powerful qi. If you're not careful, it can kill you.'
'Mistress, can it truly kill me? It looks like an ordinary dao,' Cheng said.
Mo Lan silently observed the dao. She didn't know kung fu, but she knew warriors always brought a weapon with them everywhere they travelled. She knew the dao in front of her was Chen Quan Ran's precious companion.
Long ago Madam told Mo Lan that Chen Quan Ran owned a powerful dao since he was a little boy and he never travelled anywhere without it. The longer Mo Lan looked at the dao the more she couldn't believe the dao's owner was her husband, because she heard sword masters say that a warrior's weapon reflected the strength of the warrior's core.
'Xiao Cheng, sword masters have said brandish the sabre like a tiger pouncing. Don't think because it looks like an ordinary dao, it doesn't have its own powerful qi. This dao can choose its owner. If this dao doesn't think its owner is deserving to brandish it then its inner qi will not be exploited,' Mo Lan said.
(Proverb means when a person wields a sabre the energy behind the sabre is as powerful as a tiger pouncing its prey.)
Chen Quan Ran stepped into his and Xiao Lan's chamber and he was pleased Xiao Lan understood his dao's inner strength. 'Xiao Lan, I didn't think a little young lady like you understood about the qi of weapons.'
Mo Lan and Cheng were surprised Chen Quan Ran returned home early from the imperial palace.
Cheng wanted to bow to formally greet her master, but he waved his hand. She understood her master wanted to be alone with her mistress and she left her master and mistress' chamber.
Chen Quan Ran picked up his dao and he sliced it in the air. He saw Xiao Lan was absorbed by the dao's melodic sounds and he laughed. 'Xiao Lan, do you know the name of my dao?'
Mo Lan heard Chen Quan Ran's laugh, she took her eyes off his dao and she looked at him. She couldn't believe he was standing in front of her, because she didn't know why he came home early, it was less than one shichen since he left to see the emperor.
'Long He Xue,' Mo Lan said.
(The name of Chen Quan Ran's dao means 'dragon drinks blood.')
Chen Quan Ran looked at Xiao Lan, and he gently stroked his precious dao like he was stroking Xiao Lan's soft skin. 'My precious dao on the battlefield has drank many of my enemies' blood.'
'I read a book about weapons that explained the legend of your dao. The legend is that your dao was once an evil black dragon demon who killed many living beings. A powerful deity defeated the black dragon and he trapped the black dragon's soul inside an ordinary dao. The deity buried the dao on top of a snowy mountain, and only fresh blood can summon the black dragon's soul. The legend warns if someone evil possesses the dao then it will become a slave to the dao. But if someone good possesses the dao then the dao will acknowledge that person as its owner,' Mo Lan said.
Chen Quan Ran was shocked Xiao Lan knew about the origin of his dao. He felt blessed his grandma found a precious treasure to be his wife.
Mo Lan frowned. 'Why are you staring at me?'
Chen Quan Ran laughed. 'I didn't expect you knew about Long He Xue's origin. Grandma told me you are an exceptional scholar. I can see you are deserving of her praise.'
Mo Lan scoffed. 'Wasn't it you who looked down on scholars... it doesn't matter. Didn't you go see the emperor? Why are you home this soon?'
'I knew you were at home missing me. So I told the emperor my wife is at home waiting for me and I asked the emperor to speak fast. Then I flew home to be with you,' Chen Quan Ran said.
Mo Lan blushed. 'You... why are you speaking nonsense?'
Chen Quan Ran spared Xiao Lan's shyness. He wielded his dao. 'Xiao Lan, do you want to see Long He Xue's true strength?'
Chen Quan Ran used the tip of his dao to prick his finger. His fresh red blood dripped down the tip of his dao.
Mo Lan opened her mouth to cry out, but she closed her mouth because Chen Quan Ran's dao changed from black to red. She was frightened the way his dao looked like an alive dragon who drank his blood.
Mo Lan thought Chen Quan Ran's eyes looked possessed by his dao. He smiled at her and suddenly he leapt from their chamber to the courtyard.
Mo Lan watched Chen Quan Ran thrust his dao at the flowers in the courtyard. His dao looked like it was flying and dancing and flower petals stained with his red blood fluttered onto the ground.
Xiao Ha and some of Chen Quan Ran's other men were drinking wine jars on the roof.
Xiao Ha was the first to notice the general was showing off Long He Xue in front of the general's wife and he laughed. 'What is the general doing? Long He Xue is his most precious weapon. All these years apart from during battle I have never once seen him unleash Long He Xue's strength to show off in front of someone.'
'Lieutenant Ha, can you not see the general's wife is standing in front of the door of their chamber. The general's wife is admiring the general's swordsmanship. Perhaps the general wants to show off Long He Xue in front of his wife to earn her adoration,' a warrior who sat on the right of Xiao Ha said.
'How can that be true? Doesn't the general hate weak and gentle young ladies like his wife the most?' a warrior who sat on the left of Xiao Ha said.
'You shouldn't underestimate the general's wife. She is young and little, but she isn't an ordinary lady. The general's strength is nothing compared to his wife's strength. Last night didn't you see the general's wife ambushed the general and she pulled him into their chamber?' a bold warrior said.
Xiao Ha and the warriors on the roof laughed loudly.
Mo Lan admired Chen Quan Ran's swift continuous movements. She thought his dao was powerful and beautiful. She felt it was like his body combined with his dao's soul into one powerful deity.
Mo Lan felt like a wind circled her heart and her heart would stop beating if she took her eyes of Chen Quan Ran. He was surrounded by a rain cloud of flower petals.
Mo Lan eyes felt blinded by the bright red light reflected off Chen Quan Ran's dao, and her heart overflowed with awe. She realised the rumours about his swordsmanship were true, and she understood why the citizens of the Northern Empire and his enemies would fear and respect him. Her heart was also filled with pride, because the man in front of her was her husband, her sky and her everything.
Chapter Three (Part 3)
Chen Quan Ran wanted to wield his dao for a longer time, but Xiao Lan pulled him into their chamber and she bandaged his finger.
'If you want to wield your dao then wield your dao. You don't need to cut your finger. Look at your finger, it's still bleeding enough to scare a person,' Mo Lan said.
Chen Quan Ran stared at Xiao Lan's eyelashes, the sweat beads on her little nose and her peony lips that was reprimanding him. He laughed and he leaned his face close to her face. 'Xiao Lan, is your heart hurting for me?'
Mo Lan was used to Chen Quan Ran's jests. She glared at him. 'How can you jest? If you are not careful then the wound on your finger will leave a scary scar.'
'This wound is nothing. On the battlefield my men and I have received many deep wounds. There are scars on my chest, arms and thighs... last night when we were training as husband and wife, didn't you see my scars?' Chen Quan Ran said.
Mo Lan blushed. She couldn't believe how thick skinned Chen Quan Ran was.
Chen Quan Ran loved to see Xiao Lan's cheeks blush pink. 'I can't fault you for not seeing my scars, because last night there weren't enough stars in the night sky. Perhaps tonight we shouldn't blow out the candles in our chamber, and you can see the scars on your husband's body.'
Xiao Lan squeezed Chen Quan Ran's bandaged finger and he cried out. 'Ah! Xiao Lan, do you want to kill your husband?'
'Then your rogue mouth shouldn't speak nonsense,' Mo Lan said.
'I wasn't speaking nonsense. I hugged and kissed you all night. Your lips were sweet, but I didn't get to see your body clearly in the dark,' Chen Quan Ran said.
Mo Lan's ears burned red. She kicked Chen Quan Ran's leg. 'You shallow rogue. If you don't want to be hit all night then don't speak nonsense,' Mo Lan said.
Chen Quan Ran captured Xiao Lan's soft hands. 'What shallow rogue? I'm a general who officially married you. I remembered eight bearers carried you in a sedan chair into the Chen household. You are my official wife. I can kiss your lips and touch you anywhere. I have the heavens' blessing to train with you on our bed day and night if I wanted to... come here my wife, let your husband kiss you... ah!'
Chen Quan Ran's lips almost touched Xiao Lan's soft lips, but she kicked his leg.
Chen Quan Ran hugged Xiao Lan and he kissed her for a while before they were interrupted by one of the emperor's messenger.
'General Chen, receive the emperor's edict,' a messenger said.
Chapter Three (Part 4 of 4)
'The emperor's edict?' Mo Lan asked.
'Um,' Chen Quan Ran said.
Chen Quan Ran kissed Xiao Lan's cheek whilst she was distracted. He loved her reaction, her cheek was pinker than a cooked prawn.
Chen Quan Ran adjusted his clothes and hair. The smile on his face vanished. He parted the beaded curtains and he received the emperor's edict. Afterward the eunuchs carried large chests into the Chen manor, they formally bowed to him and they left the Chen manor.
'What is inside the chests?' Mo Lan asked.
Chen Quan Ran laughed. 'Xiao Lan, open them and you'll know.'
Mao Lan opened some of the chests. 'Did the emperor give you all this jewellery?'
'Um. In the morning when I entered the imperial palace I gave the jewellery you gave me to the emperor for him to give to his consorts. I told the emperor my wife personally selected those valuable jewellery for his consorts. The emperor wanted to give me jewellery for me to give to my wife in return,' Chen Quan Ran said.
'I didn't choose those jewellery for you to give to the emperor's consorts to please them, but to appease their relatives who are court officials-' Mo Lan said.
'Xiao Lan, you don't need to worry about the court officials or the emperor's consorts. They are all the emperor's people. Besides, if you want me to return these chests to the emperor it'll harm my reputation as the emperor's general,' Chen Quan Ran said.
Mo Lan didn't expect giving Chen Quan Ran jewellery to appease the people who serve the emperor would result in the emperor giving Chen Quan Ran ten times the jewellery she gave Chen Quan Ran.
Mo Lan worried the imperial palace was a hidden heaven and hell. The emperor favoured Chen Quan Ran during a period of peace, but one day the emperor would feel Chen Quan Ran's army force was a threat and the emperor wouldn't hesitate to turn his back on Chen Quan Ran.
'Xiao Lan, come here. Is there any jewellery here that you like? They are all treasures from the imperial palace. I think the round pearls suit your creamy white skin,' Chen Quan Ran said.
Chen Quan Ran put a pearl necklace around Xiao Lan's neck, and he held a mirror for her.
'It's true the pearls suit my beautiful wife. I understand why people say 'if there is light in the soul, there will be beauty in the person and if there is beauty in the person, there will be harmony in the house,' I think they were talking about my beautiful wife,' Chen Quan Ran said.
Mo Lan laughed at Chen Quan Ran's excessive praise. 'The emperor doesn't like allowing his citizens controlling army forces, but he knows he needs citizens like you to lead army forces and protect the Northern Empire.'
Chen Quan Ran brushed Xiao Lan's hair away from her forehead. 'The emperor knows who he can trust and can't trust. If the emperor is a fickle man who listens to false rumours, Xiao Li do you think I would help him protect the Northern Empire?'
Mo Lan looked into Chen Quan Ran's wise eyes. On the outside he looked like a brute, but on the inside his mind was sharp.
Mo Lan realised Chen Quan Ran grew up with the emperor and they overcame many traps inside the imperial palace together. Chen Quan Ran wouldn't obtain the position of a general if he relied on brute strength alone, he needed a sharp mind to outwit his enemies.
Mo Lan knew Chen Quan Ran was right, he had his own strategies and ways of dealing with corrupt court officials. She didn't need to worry about his safety inside the imperial palace, because he overcame many obstacles to be a general.
Chen Quan Ran whispered in Xiao Lan's ear. 'Your husband wants to say thank you to you. Under this sky apart from my grandma, Xiao Lan you are the second woman who truly worried about me.'